Last year (March 2017) an upper house inquiry into NSW Workers Compensation released its report recommending a range of reforms. But at the end of our readings we see that nothing has really changed, or has there?
The Law and Justice Committee report found that the dispute resolution processes – called “dysfunctional” by stakeholders – were “inefficient, caused delays, and resulted in inconsistent decision-making and a system that is difficult for scheme participants to navigate”.
The review made 26 recommendations to make claims simpler for injured workers and for the NSW government to establish a ‘one stop shop’ forum for the resolution of all workers compensation disputes.
Other recommendations clamp down on aggressive covert surveillance by insurers, stop insurers “doctor-shopping” to deny claims and require case managers to have mandatory minimum qualifications and training.
The review also recommends the removal of the distinction between ‘work capacity’ and ‘liability’.
Workcover NSW Scheme is broken
Greens MP David Shoebridge, who is a member on the committee who oversaw the review, said the overwhelming message from stakeholders was that the current system was “broken, pointlessly complex and unfair to injured workers”.
“The NSW workers compensation scheme is broken. Injured workers with ongoing injuries and pressing medical needs have been thrown on the scrapheap and are missing out on essential medical care and financial support,” Shoebridge said.
“Taken together the recommendations from this report will make an appreciable, but modest, difference to the unfairness that is now embedded in workers compensation in this state.”
Shadow Minister for Finance, Services and Property, Clayton Barr, said the report was short of the “surgery” needed to fix the workers compensation system.
“This review confirm(ed) what Labor has been saying for so long – that the workers compensation system needs to be fixed.
Concern for workers
The Injured Workers Support Network welcomed the release of the report stating it highlights many concerns raised by its members. However, it expressed concern that it will not inherently improve the experiences of injured workers.
“Rather than supporting injured workers the recommendations dither at the edges of the system,” said Rowan Kernebone, coordinator of the Injured Workers Support Network.
“There is no mention of the dire need to pull insurers in line when they breach statutory timeframes to approve necessary surgery or medical treatments. A wait that increases the likelihood of permanent disability and extends the recovery time of nearly all injured workers in NSW.”
Talking of doctors’ “legal obligations”, rather than their rights and responsibilities to injured workers, would more likely “push the system towards the insurers’ adversarial practices and away from practical medical assistance for injured workers” said Kernebone.
“We need a workers compensation system that works to improve the recovery of injured workers and their adaption to life with an acquired disability, not one that makes the system better at ignoring this.” said Injured Workers Support Network chair David Henry.